TNB Night Owl – Arabian Riff

The melody described as "Arabian Song" in the La grande méthode complète de cornet à piston et de saxhorn par Arban, first published in the 1850s. Public domain.

In 1719, Christophe Ballard published Colin prend sa hotte in France, a tune now thought to be based on a seventeenth century Algerian folk song, Kradoudja. Franz Hünten published Melodie Arabe, his version of the Algerian riff, in 1845.

Melodie Arabe

Sometime in the 1850s, Jean-Baptiste Arban first published La grande méthode complète de cornet à piston et de saxhorn par Arban. His method of music instruction for cornet and other brass instruments included a version of the Arabian riff. The Arban Method is still in print today, so it must be a successful teaching tool.

Jean-Baptiste Arban’s Arabian Song, the 13th duet from his Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet (1864).

The World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, included attractions (or facsimiles thereof) from around the world. One such facsimile was called “A Street in Cairo”, which presumably meant to bring the culture of an Egyptian neighborhood to the Midway at the fair in Chicago. The attraction featured among other things: camel rides, snake charmers, and belly dancers, the most famous of which was known as Little Egypt.

Sol Bloom, song-writer and music publisher, just twenty-three years old, was entertainment director for the fair and played a big role in developing the attractions on the Midway. At the time, he claimed to have written a song for the “A Street in Cairo” attraction, he called The Streets of Cairo, which was played extensively on the Midway throughout the entire run of the fair. The song also became known as, The Poor Little Country Maid, or the snake charmer song, or Arabian riff. Another songwriter, James Thornton, wrote lyrics to go with the tune and published it as Streets Of Cairo or The Poor Little Country Maid.

Thornton version (1895)

[Sidebar: It should come as no surprise that Bloom later became a politician and served in Congress for 16 years.]

The Arabian riff found its way into children’s songs: The Girls in France and The Southern Part of France. In the past 100 years, the riff has been included in dozens and dozens of shows, cartoons, and popular songs up to the present.

Here are a few full-length examples of the Arabian riff:

“Streets of Cairo or the Poor Little Country Maid” (2:10):

“The Streets of Cairo” – flute (1:15):

“The Streets of Cairo, Or the Poor Little Country Maid” (2:46):

Question of the Night: What odd little jingle do you like?

About the opinions in this article…

Any opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website or of the other authors/contributors who write for it.

About Richard Doud 622 Articles
Learning is a life-long endeavor. Never stop learning. No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.